Some welcome news for dozens of Native American nations as the US government has announced that it is to pay more than 1 billion dollars (around 760 million euros) in settlements to end a series of long-running legal battles with a number of indigenous peoples in the United States.
From a report by the Indian Country Today Media Network :
“The Obama administration announced April 11 its intent to resolve 41 long-standing disputes with Indian tribal governments over the federal mismanagement of trust funds and resources.
Ignacia Moreno, assistant attorney general at the U.S. Department of Justice, said the settlements will amount to a combined total of $1.023 billion to the 41 tribes for past federal mismanagement.
Beyond money, the settlements also set forth a framework for promoting tribal sovereignty and improving nation-to-nation federal-tribal relations, while trying to avoid future litigation through improved communication, Moreno said.
The announcement was made at a White House ceremony, with Attorney General Eric Holder, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, Senior Advisor to the President Valerie Jarrett, and other senior members of the Obama administration joining tribal leaders in attendance.
“May we walk together toward a brighter future, built on trust, and not acrimony,” said Hilary Tompkins, Solicitor General of the Interior Department, at the event. “And when I say the word trust, I don’t mean the legal definition of that word, I mean the dictionary’s definition of that word—assured reliance on the integrity, veracity, justice, friendship, or other sound principle of a person or thing….”
The announcement is one of several settlements the Obama administration has announced with individual Indians and tribes since 2009.
In 2010, the administration settled the $760 million Keepseagle case brought by Native American farmers and ranchers against the U.S. Department of Agriculture. They alleged discrimination by the agency in its administration of loan programs.
President Barack Obama also signed into law the Claims Resolution Act in December 2010, which included the $3.4 billion Cobell settlement agreement that aims to resolve a lawsuit over the management and accounting of more than 300,000 individual American Indian trust accounts. That settlement is still on appeal in federal court. It was first announced by the administration in December 2009.
The Claims Resolution Act also included four water rights settlements, meant to benefit seven tribes in Arizona, Montana, and New Mexico.
In October 2011, the Obama administration reached a $380 million settlement with the Osage Nation over the tribe’s long-standing lawsuit involving the federal government’s mismanagement of trust funds and trust resources. That settlement featured measures designed to improve the trust relationship between the tribe and the United States.
Chief James Allan, Coeur d’Alene tribal chairman, said at the event that he believes Obama has done more for tribes than the last five presidents combined.
Gary Hayes, chairman of the Ute Mountain Tribe, thanked the U.S. agencies for moving to settle the lawsuits that have already proven costly to tribes as they have carried out their legal challenges for years. He also thanked the Native American Rights Fund for its role in assisting tribes on the deals.
“The seeds that we plant today will profit us in the future,” Hayes said. “These agreements mark a new beginning, one of just reconciliation, better communication…and strengthened management….”
Let us hope that the positive political developments of the last few years for the indigenous communities of North America herald the birth of a true era of respect and equality between themselves and the United States of America. But there is a long way to go.
- Justice Department Announces $1B Settlement in Indian Trust Litigation (legaltimes.typepad.com)
- Tribes, government agree to $1 billion settlement (sfgate.com)
- Colville Tribes win $193M for mismanaged lands (seattletimes.nwsource.com)
- Chippewa Might Get Repaid (chiefwritingwolf.com)
- Tribes, government agree to $1 billion settlement (heraldonline.com)
- The Dawes Act: How Congress tried to destroy Indian reservations (oup.com)